Why Intelligence Agencies’ Abuse Of Power Should Be A Litmus Test For The Right

Why Intelligence Agencies’ Abuse Of Power Should Be A Litmus Test For The Right

Why are so many in Washington—even supposed conservatives—so eager to defend our powerful and unelected intelligence agencies?
Willis L. Krumholz
By

Last year, President Trump claimed his campaign had been spied on, and was roundly ridiculed. Now we know that not only was the Trump campaign spied on, but at least one human intelligence source was used—a person widely and publicly known to be associated with the Central Intelligence Agency—to try to get Trump campaign people to admit to collusion with Russia, an allegation for which there is still no evidence after two years of investigation.

We learned about the likely identity of that human intelligence source after Department of Justice or Federal Bureau of Intelligence officials, in full C.Y.A. mode, leaked more than enough information about the source to The New York Times and Washington Post to reveal the source’s identity. These powerful bureaucracies did this while falsely fretting that Republicans would disclose the source’s identity and threaten lives and national security, which is still the excuse the DOJ and FBI are using to keep withholding documents from Congress.

Aside from the FBI’s human source contacting Trump campaign officials well before the FBI says the investigation officially began and possibly in violation of FBI guidelines, a hugely overlooked angle is the massive electronic surveillance of the Trump campaign. It wasn’t just Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act warrants, granted by a secret court that rarely denies the government’s spying requests, with the unverified and Hillary Clinton-funded Trump-Russia dossier used as probable cause. It was also national security letters, which allow spying without a judge’s oversight.

Yes, this surveillance targeted certain campaign officials, not the whole campaign per se. But with the National Security Agency’s two-hop rule, it is likely the entire communications of the Trump campaign were being sifted.

Don’t forget the communications Trump people had with non-citizens, which is routine for a presidential campaign, especially during the transition period. In them, non-citizens’ communications were scooped up and the American side of the communications un-redacted, or unmasked, which allowed yet another avenue for the Obama administration to see the Trump camp’s conversations.

The number of unmasking requests jumped exponentially in 2016, with no explanation. Former Obama national security advisor Susan Rice denied unmasking Trump campaign communications, but it was later discovered that most of the unmasking requests came from her office.

Regardless of all this and more, Democrats and the mainstream media—along with certain Republicans, such as Rep. Trey Gowdy and Sen. Marco Rubio—were quick to assure Americans that the intelligence bureaucracies did nothing wrong. In fact, they say, the intelligence agencies were just going after Russia, or specific Trump campaign persons, and had no political motivation.

That is very misleading, and both Gowdy and Rubio haven’t even seen the documents Congress is requesting that would back up their claims. They are just taking the FBI’s word for it. The investigation was of course targeting the entire Trump campaign, with the ultimate prize being Trump himself. In just one example, former FBI director Jim Comey said as much during testimony before the House Intelligence Committee, of which Gowdy is a member.

Agencies’ Investigation Looks Political From the Start

The whole investigation looks like it had political origins. The Russia story, after all, started with Clinton people going into the Democratic National Convention to distract from the mistreatment of Clinton primary opponent Sen. Bernie Sanders, and to once-and-for-all peel away the GOP national security establishment from Trump.

Democrats’ effort to fabricate the Trump and Russia collusion story was immediately spearheaded by the likes of Chris Steele and Cody Shearer. Did the FBI begin its investigation because of the allegations first made by the Clinton campaign and backed up by the “work” of Steele and Shearer, which the Clinton camp and the DNC paid for and directed? We now know that the investigation wasn’t started by Trump advisor George Papadopoulos talking to the Australian diplomat. So what did start it, and why has the FBI lied about the origins of the investigation?

These questions are deadly serious, and need answers. Yet some Republicans, such as Gowdy, say that even if the info came from Democrats, the FBI should still have looked into it. The problem is that the FBI did more than just look into the allegations. The Obama-run federal bureaucracy, likely with some idea of what was going on, was used to facilitate the Clinton campaign’s Trump-Russia allegation.

Media reports running in the months and weeks before the election, stating that the intelligence community was seriously investigating Trump and Russia ties, lent the Clinton campaign’s claims legitimacy. These news reports of Trump-Russia ties that showed up on voters’ smartphone screens might have swayed millions of votes away from Trump, or in Clinton’s favor.

We Can’t Have Self-Government Under This Kind of System

Dirty tricks to set up your political opponent are nothing new. But using the full force of powerful spy agencies and the U.S. mainstream media as pawns is something new. Unelected and far too powerful U.S. intelligence agencies need to stay politically neutral at all costs if America is to have free and fair elections within a system of representative government. But they didn’t, and they haven’t.

Top Obama-era DOJ, FBI, and CIA officials also had their own political motives. Look at what they have said both before and after Trump’s election. They hate Trump. Consider Peter Strzok, who helped start the Russia investigation, and his rabidly anti-Trump texts. Former CIA director (and former Communist) John Brennan has practically threatened the president on Twitter.

U.S. intelligence bureaucracies need to be reined in, and bad actors at our intelligence agencies need to be held to account. No one should be above the law. The FBI and DOJ have serially withheld documents from Congress, and frustrated the efforts of congressional investigators. If this problem isn’t confronted head-on, it will only get worse.

These abuses were encouraged by the fact that few thought Clinton could lose, especially with intelligence agencies behind her. Nobody thought the people abusing this kind of power would be held to account. So it was open season on Trump’s campaign. But if Clinton didn’t win, and the GOP controls Congress, and this abuse of power still isn’t rectified, it is game over for government by and for the people in America.

Start Taking This As Seriously As It Deserves, Congress

That’s why it is so alarming that Republicans like Rubio are unwilling to say that the FBI did anything wrong when spying on the Trump campaign. It is possible that the FBI’s actions were appropriate, but these politicians should demand to see the documents that the FBI and DOJ refuse to release before absolving the FBI of all wrongdoing.

Maybe Rubio and other establishment Republicans aren’t that conservative. That’s not name-calling. Conservatives should be for limited and representative government in all respects. Intelligence agencies’ record presents an existential threat to those principles, and to our very republic.

If you don’t hold the unelected and highly powerful intelligence agencies to account, you simply aren’t a conservative. If you pledge fealty to the administrative state and its intelligence apparatus no matter the evidence, you simply aren’t a conservative.

This isn’t the first time a certain group of Republicans and pundits, including David French and Bill Kristol, have entertained unverified claims against the president while being all too willing to overlook clear abuses of power at bureaucracies such as the FBI and CIA. Just a couple days ago, in fact, Jonah Goldberg went so far as to label Gowdy’s critics—who had simply pointed out that Gowdy didn’t see the documents he was talking about—as McCarthyites.

The CIA Wants Foreign Ops, and So Do Plenty of Pundits

What explains this? Much of this stems from a view on foreign policy the conservative base, let alone the majority of the American people, don’t share. Many of those willing to turn a blind eye to intelligence abuses support regime change and nation-building overseas. Trump railed against interventionism on the campaign trail, and maybe the Robert Mueller investigation checks Trump’s more radical instincts.

If you support a robust and interventionist foreign policy, and don’t mind spending oodles of money to do it, the U.S. intelligence agencies are a natural ally. Ideology aside, there’s quite a bit of money, consulting, advisory, and contracting gigs dependent on America’s foreign policy status quo.

Another factor could simply be ego. Maybe these bloggers are just ticked that voters didn’t listen to them. Maybe they would love to see the most conservative president in a lifetime fail, just so they could say “I told you so.” Maybe they relish prestige and position more than getting things done.

This Is About Principle, Not Politics

But intelligence bureaucracies’ abuses matter quite a lot to conservative voters, and if phrased the right way, these abuses would matter a lot to independents and moderate Democrats, too. Why? Because voters have a collective wisdom that our current jet-set of elites will unfortunately never grasp. Even if you don’t like Trump, you shouldn’t be willing to accept a runaway intelligence bureaucracy as long as it hurts or checks the president. That’s a Faustian bargain if there ever was one.

Right now, Democrat political consultants are telling their candidates to stop harping on the Russia investigation. Establishment Republicans think that means that they can drop the issue too. Actually, that means they should start talking about it. Politicians don’t have to carry water for the president, but the unelected administrative state is not a constitutional fourth branch of government.

What to do about Republicans who can’t seem to find an intelligence bureaucracy abuse they don’t like? There are a lot of pro-life candidates who could fill a chair. If Rubio and politicians like him don’t come out and fight such a serious threat to our republic, it doesn’t hurt to remember that they are in DC to serve the people, not to serve the FBI. And the people still make that call.

Willis L. Krumholz is a fellow at Defense Priorities. He holds a JD and MBA degree from the University of St. Thomas, and works in the financial services industry. The views expressed are those of the author only. You can follow Willis on Twitter @WillKrumholz.
Photo U.S. Air Force Photo/Tech Sgt. Randy Redman

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